Together We Win

Note to Readers – Since Kathy Holwadel is out of the country, we’re updating her blog with information about what’s happened since she posted her emergency call to action over the weekend.

Cincyopolis and citizen actions scored a win this week.

Building a great city—the goal of Cincyopolis—requires that citizens stay informed about issues affecting our community and participate in the democratic process.  When Kathy Holwadel raised her concerns about Monday’s meeting of the Budget and Finance Committee, she was exercising a duty we share as citizens.

Two of the emergency ordinances on the agenda were both long-term (some youngish members of council will be in their 70s before they expire) and so undefined that citizens, knowing of them, would not want to let them pass without comment. So Kathy acted quickly. Writing across several time zones and from more than 4,500 miles away, she pressed “pause” on her holiday and asked the rest of us to take just a moment to do the same.

Kathy was right: this time it really was an emergency.

The concerns raised over the weekend were exactly on point regarding public process and transparency. It should be a matter of concern for all of us that the city:

  • Advanced two last-minute proposals requiring an emergency vote with no information about plans for use of funds,
  • Included those proposals as part of 500 pages of material for a single committee meeting,
  • Defined the emergency ordinances so they would divert tax dollars from the general fund and prioritize them for developer benefit, and in so doing,
  • Failed to use the leverage of developer incentives to require community benefit.

All these things are still true, even if the ordinances were specifying TIFs—tax increment financing—rather than abatements, as Kathy first thought. With these two project-based TIFs, the developer pays the taxes—but then gets to use the money to directly benefit to the project area (rather than a larger defined area, as with TIFs used for developing Over-the-Rhine and The Banks).

It’s not necessarily a bad idea—but these came up too fast and without any detail and without any requirements of the developer. For example, in other cities, when developers are provided with a significant incentive and benefit like this, the city officials use that leverage to require that the developer offer community benefits like jobs that pay enough for the basics, public art infused in the development (sidewalk seating anyone?), and more.

Because Kathy wrote about this, lots of us listened, signed, shared, and questioned the actions of  City and Council.  And Council members asked a lot of pointed questions about incentives for developers. And they asked about the status of guidelines the City had promised last summer to create, assuring fair dealing and transparency in granting developer incentives.

To their credit, the administration agreed to amend the ordinance to require public input on the use of TIF dollars in these deals. Members of council supported the amendments and included them in updated ordinances passed by Council today. (Thanks to Yvette Simpson for taking the lead.) Additionally, city officials plan to develop a set of standards and goals for future incentives for developers…and acknowledged such important actions on developer incentives shouldn’t happen 1) without details, and 2) as emergency votes. It just didn’t work that way this time.

We’ll be watching for opportunities to speak up on developer incentives, community benefits from these incentives, and the new guidelines. Stay tuned.

~~ Katherine Durack + Margy Waller

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